Pixar’s One-Man Band

At the end of The Jungle Book, Mowgli’s love interest sings of her future daughter, “I’ll send her to fetch the water, I’ll be cooking in the home.” Some 43 years later, her metaphorical daughters populate not only Disney films, but also those of Dream Works and Pixar. Alas, not only do these animated daughters still accord to gender norms for the most part, but so too do their creators. Most animators, screenwriters, directors and producers are still men, getting to be the Mowgli-type adventurers in Hollywood, while their female counterparts often remain figurative water fetchers.

Brenda Chapman, the woman director who broke into Pixar, reportedly a boys club, was sadly turned back into a non-directing pumpkin last week–no fairy-tale ending for her as the director/heroine of Brave, an animated film she wrote and has been developing for several years. Instead, Mark Andrews has reportedly taken over directorial duties. The title of his previous Pixar short, One Man Band, is a fitting way to describe what seems to have become Pixar’s one-note dedication to male-helmed and -focused films.

While changes in directors are common in the film world (so much so that “they hardly merit reporting,”) this story is causing quite the stir as Chapman was Pixar’s first woman director; all eleven previous films were directed by (and featured) men. Pixar is not unique in this regard: As Sharon Waxman & Jeff Sneider write, “The animation industry is not known as a warm and fuzzy place for women.” In Hollywood more generally, as Waxmen and Sneider further note,

Women remain a fraction of the industry’s directors, just 7 percent according to the latest study–the same ratio as a decade ago.

It was only this year, after all, that a woman finally won Best Director at the Academy Awards, despite the fact women have been involved in filmmaking since its beginnings in 1896.

As Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood puts it,

Directors get fired all the time.  But this firing has people up in arms for a variety of reasons.  First, because they touted her as their first female director only a month ago; second, she is an experienced animated director; third, the firing doesn’t seem to be rational and folks even in the business are confused as to why it happened.

Thus, this individual case of firing is pertinent to a larger problem–the lack of females holding powerful studio positions.

Tracy L., a former film development executive with 12 years experience in the industry, agrees:

The bigger issue here is not the firing but why Pixar has never had a female director to begin with. The bigger story to my way of thinking is the utter lack of female input behind the scenes and the lack of female protagonists on screen.

She continues:

Do I think there’s sexism in Hollywood? Hell yeah there is. I’ve witnessed it first-hand, ergo my leaving the business. But there’s also racism and homophobia. This is a contributing factor as to why so many women get out of the business. It is not a hospitable work environment for females.

In films, this lack of women behind the scenes seems to translate to a certain type of woman character in animated films–one who is less heroic, adventuresome, independent and important than the male robots, toys, cars and humans that surround her.

With Disney figuratively cutting Rapunzel’s powerful locks by making Tangled more boy-focused, and now Pixar taking away Chapman’s directorial wand, what’s next–a film about a female warrior who suddenly becomes a gooey-eyed animal lover? Oh, that’s already been done (Pocahontas). How about taking a you-go-girl patriarchy-defier and stealing her voice? Oh, that one is taken too (Little Mermaid).

Wait, I know: a movie about a matriarchal society filled with female power-players that have to be saved by a tremulous boy. (Oops, that’s Bug’s Life). Maybe we’ll have to settle for a Toy Story 4 in which the girl is more than love interest, helper, or background player. Please, Pixar, bring Bonnie front and center, give Jessie a main storyline, and ditch the “that’s so gay” Ken storyline. And get with the Bigelow effect already: Encourage more women directors! really, now, those big-boy pants of yours need to come off–let some women lead your one-man band, would you?

Photo from Flickr user superstrikertwo under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Stevie R. says:

    What then does the mother do? She is a woman and she cooks for her family. For me, this is an honor. I am the one who gets to serve my family an amazing meal and at the end of the day, I am the one they are thanking for it!

    To be a woman is a beautiful thing, and I hope my daughter does not feel a laziness in that she does not care to cook for her family or instead. get a maid or servant to clean the home.

    Thank you for the article, but I am sure Pixar does not want to jeopardize their industry by putting less-talented men above women.

  2. It's amazing this story is generating this type of publicity because of the industry's affiliation with Disney… Seriously? Does anyone think sexism has been eradicated? This is going on in corporate America all day every day… Sexism is alive; however, not a lot of attention is being paid to the numerous violations because there are those that feel because of the recent passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act or the recent nominations of Justices Kagan and Sotomayor that women are no longer struggling for equality… There is very little female representation in corporate boardrooms across AmericaI, yet women make up about 51% of the workforce.

    I wrote a whole book about sexism in corporate America (MisBehave: Speak Truth to Power) with a unique perspective as I've worked in Human Resources and witnessed sexism at its finest. In many instances, it's not even subtle… Until we bring more awareness to sexism, unfortunately this type of behavior will continue, be it subtle or overt…

  3. " does not want to jeopardize their industry by putting less-talented men above women." Really? Well after 30 years in politics all I can say is, you obviously don't spend much time at your state capital.

  4. Not all women are mothers and not all mothers cook dinner.
    Being female does not automatically relegate one to a particular role or lot in life.
    Men can cook dinner and wash dishes. Men can be caretakers.
    Pixar need to accept more feminists and more women into it's 'old boy' network.

  5. Pam Redela says:

    Well, the mother can cook and clean all she wants, as long as she is not expected to do so simply because she has the ovaries. If she decides to showcase her talents in the workplace and live in a household where dad can also show off his cleaning and culinary skills, I hope Grandma doesn't insult her as lazy but instead praises her for living life to the fullest.

    As for Pixar, I hope stories like these continue to snowball and call out the sexism that permeates our society until something actually changes.

  6. i really appreciate the coverage of this. i've considered myself a feminist since i was a preteen reading "the feminine mystique" while babysitting but it took reading things like this and reports from geena davis' foundation to realize the pervasiveness of the inequity in our media–even in some of my favorite movies and shows! to me, this shows how blinded even a reasonably aware person can be by the status quo. so, thanks again!

  7. Jenn Meneray says:

    Stevie you are making the assumption that all women are, or want to be, mothers. You need to take into account that some women either do not want to be mothers or are not in a heterosexual relationship. You seem very demanding in stating “she is a woman and she cooks for her family.” While I understand that some women wish to be housewives, I do not think that you should be so set in assuming that all women want to have a family, to cook for that family, or even that women are naturally born to fit the role of housewife/mother. If you think it is such an “honor” to cook and serve your family then why not let your partner be honored and let them cook and clean one day? Just go up to your partner and say “Honey, I want you to feel some of the honor that I bask in everyday when I cook for you and the kids, tomorrow you will cook and serve us.”

    Furthermore you must ask a few questions such as: What if she (the mother) does not know how to cook? And what if there are two women at the head of this “family” you speak of? Do they both cook then? What about single moms or children without a mother or father? What about single dads?? Do the children just starve in such families?

    While reading this I am concluding that you believe in the heterosexual female/male gender roles of a relationship and that the woman stays home while the man works. I think it is important to note that the roles that women take on are highly undervalued within our society. If a man were doing the cooking and cleaning he would be considered emasculated and “not in control” of his household so I think that ideology needs to change. Relationships without a male and female in there are invisible in society but I assure they exist. 🙂

    In regards to the article, well, this does not surprise me. The film industry is very male dominated. What I think we should look at is how these male directors are encouraging gender roles and how this affects the children who see these movies. I think it is important to empower young women because body image issues are so prominent right now. The problem with this is that Pixar rarely portrays a female character that is in power and isn't white, heterosexual, and thin. Wilson notes this in her article. I think that if they had a female director then the movie would be very different in the way women are portrayed. As of right now these movies are very sexist, hetero-normative, and racist. It seems like female directors must adhere to specific terms and conditions for these films in order for them to work in this industry. Would they ask a man to give up his hyper-masculinity in order to film a movie for Pixar? Probably not. If this is the case then don't ask a female director to give up her feminist/individual values in order to direct.

    In the end the sexism that takes place in the industry is presented on the big screen and embedded into the minds of children. At this rate things won't change. Female children, children of color, and non-heterosexual children will internalize these values and oppression. The film industry needs to change and not normalize homophobia, sexism, and racism and I think a step forward would be allowing female directors. This is why I am with Wilson on this one, "Encourage more women directors!!" PLEASE!

    • Just wanted to drop in and say that this is a wonderful response. Considering all the people putting down this story as politically correct propaganda or, in layman’s terms, whining, it’s refreshing and even a bit heartwarming someone can sum up the point of this news article so eloquently.

      We’re humans too. So simple it’s often overlooked.

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